Road map needed
RESEARCH by the Urban Resource Centre Karachi has established that in the absence of a reasonable transport system a large percentage of women do not work, children often do not get to school, time and costs of commuting in uncomfortable conditions adversely affect the physical and mental health of commuters and increase poverty and domestic violence. In addition, it also results in massive environmental degradation, inappropriate land-use changes, damage to Karachi’s built heritage and adds to traffic congestion.
During the last 15 years, the government initiated a number of transport-related projects. However, they have all failed because, in the absence of public consultations, they were badly conceived, implemented and managed.
The government has now unveiled the Karachi Mass Transit Master Plan (KMTMP)-2030 through which it seeks to overcome the transport crisis. The plan consists of 92 kilometres of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) through six corridors; 41km of rail-based Mass Rapid Transit on three corridors; and 43km of the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR). Even in cities where there is strong leadership, political will, appropriate institutions and resources (all of which Karachi does not have), such an ambitious plan would take over 25 years to build. So what happens between now and the completion of a substantial part of the KMTMP?
The BRTs, apart from financial considerations, are the simplest part of the plan to implement. Their infrastructure, rolling stock and other related costs, according to Dr Noman Ahmed of the NED University, works out to over Rs160 billion. Yet, when completed they will serve no more than 8pc of Karachi commuters. In addition, to make them sustainable the average fare works out to well over 100 per trip (today’s figures) and to make the service when completed affordable, a subsidy of about Rs20bn per year (today’s figures) will be required. Also, insiders associated with the project claim that the necessary institutions for the implementation of the project have yet to be effectively developed.
Apart from transport, Karachi needs to help its pedestrians.
Given the above realities, it is possible that two or three BRTs are completed in the next five to seven years. Even if that happens, over 90pc of Karachi’s commuters will continue to depend on the existing transport modes and to service their needs, a far simpler, cheaper and easy to build and maintain system, which can be upgraded incrementally, has to be designed and implemented.
A solution that has often been discussed consists of, one: physically segregating a bus lane by a barrier on all the major corridors of the city; two, specifying an appropriately designed bus for the city; three, providing the private sector, including the existing transporters, loans for the purchase of such buses; four, regularising and upgrading the para-transits, such as the Qingis; five, developing an institution to train and monitor the transport operators and their drivers and conductors; and six, reviving the circular railway.
The cost of the circular railway rehabilitation as envisaged by the KMTMP-2030 works out to Rs91bn and involves the relocation of over 5,000 households. At this cost and scale of displacement, it is unlikely to be implemented. However, if the Pakistan Railways was to undertake it minus the sophistication of the KMTMP-2030, its cost would be a mere fraction of the KMTMP-2030 proposal. Also, the number of affected people would be substantially reduced if only the minimum number required to make the KCR operative were removed.
Apart from transport, Karachi desperately needs to cater to the needs of its pedestrians and issues related to vehicle parking and traffic congestion. The city is lucky to have large roads and enough space for parking the existing number of vehicles. The problem is that this space is grossly mismanaged and much of it is encroached upon. What is required (apart from better traffic management) is a rerouting of traffic, reorganisation of space through small traffic engineering projects, and the rehabilitation of hawkers on pedestrianised zones. Karachi’s academic institutions through student thesis and projects have developed a lot of knowledge on the subject.
What is being proposed also requires resources and institutions. However, the resources for this are manageable and the institutions do not require the level of sophistication demanded by the KMTMP-2030 whose projects can continue while the proposals mentioned are being implemented.
The Karachi Strategic Development Plan-2020 vision for the city is to make it into a “world class” city. However, for the sake of the vast majority of Karachiites, the vision should be changed to making Karachi a “pedestrian and commuter friendly” city.
But then, can our decision-makers and their advisors shed their megalomania to support the creation and nurturing of institutions that can design and implement simple solutions with the involvement of Karachi’s civil society, various interest groups and academic institutions? Perhaps not yet, but we can certainly try and work towards it.